Jeopardy, 1953

Starting off with narration isn’t the best idea. Helen (Barbara Stanwyck) and Doug (Barry Sullivan) begin their Baja vacation, showing in plenty of detail what we’re told with some redundancy. “I hated that jetty the moment I saw it” Helen let’s us know. I would’ve liked it myself, if she didn’t drop such an enormous hint that something was going to happen there.

Not a bad set-up for a giant abalone to come ashore, mutated from an atomic blast–but, no, Doug won’t end up the first victim of a ’50s sci-fi encounter. He just traps himself under a collapsed piling. I admit, having read plenty of reviews on Jeopardy, I went in jaded. But, why can’t they just dig under his ankle to free it? It’s just sand there; they don’t even have to try to move the piling.

Still, there’s pretty good suspense, as the tide comes in quick enough to make Doug’s situation perilous. And, since all they need is a rope, which Helen quickly finds, things seem to roll along. Fate throws a wrench into things, as a potential rescuer turns out to be a murderer. The plot is officially out of low gear. But, given a convenient opportunity, why doesn’t she tell the police about her husband? Lawson (Ralph Meeker) can’t get away with anything with two cops looking right at them.

Meanwhile, back at the piling, I’m thinking that the tidewater and its undertow could loosen the sand enough to let him wriggle out. What’s more agonizing is Helen passing up an even better shot at turning the tables on Lawson. She waits and waits with the tire iron at the ready, and doesn’t try anything until he’s caught on. There’s some good back-and-forth between them; or, rather they have parallel conversations, as he psychopathically seems incapable of empathy.

At this point, I’ve got to let little things go, for example, how he avoids getting shot by the submachinegun-toting cop. Helen does come up with a cunning plan: Lawson can switch identities with Doug if he helps free him. The sequence with Lawson leaping into action, and improvising with convincing determination, works great .

Helen has to muck things up with a last voice-over. Lawson, perhaps proud of himself for once, lets Helen out of their lurid bargain, and simply leaves. The ending is redemptive in the least anticipated way; yes, Doug’s rescued, and Helen is ok; but even she recognizes the change in Lawson, and has just a bit of admiration for him.

Jeopardy starts blandly, quickly gets melodramatic, gets into a rut of plot-holes, but finishes quite well. Not that good, but fairly entertaining. 6/10

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